Holiday Digest: Christmas and the Eight Days of Hanukkah

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By Rosalie Marsh-Boinus 

When I was a young girl growing up in the Midwest, Christmas was always an exciting time. There were beautiful decorations around the neighborhood and downtown.  We even had a Winter Carnival with ice sculptures.

However, our family did not celebrate Christmas – we celebrated Hanukkah. We also celebrated my birthday which happened to fall on Christmas Day. 

I used to resent the fact as I cannot remember having any birthday parties. That was because most of my friends were not Jewish and they celebrated Christmas.

During those cold December months when piles of snow surrounded our house, what  I remember most are the sled rides when my brother pushed me down a very small hill. Later, when I was older, I enjoyed ice skating. It was always very cold: temperatures that were 20 below zero and snow drifts that were 20-feet-high.  

Hanukkah falls on different days in December – sometimes early in the month and sometimes right through Christmas. During the eight days of Hanukkah my mother and father bought us lots of games, dolls and coloring books. We ate potato pancakes and each night after lighting the beautiful Hanukkah candles, we opened our gifts. I loved receiving coloring books but my favorite gift was my Betty Crocker bake set where I could bake tiny little cakes.  

I could never understand why we could not celebrate Christmas and have our pine tree decorated with lovely lights. All our neighbors had lights on their trees, but we didn’t. 

When I asked my father about this, he told me about how his family had escaped from Russia in the early 1900s where there were pogroms. The Russians were burning up the little towns where many families lived and killing innocent people. My father came to America when he was four years old, and his family settled in St. Paul because it was a lot like Russia – very cold.  I am so thankful that they escaped!  

After many years living in Laguna Beach – a far cry from the cold winter days of Minnesota – I have many memories of celebrating both Hanukkah and my birthday on Christmas.  I have come to love that day. There’s even a pine tree in my front yard, although I have never decorated it. I have many friends who are alone and love to come to my house to celebrate.  I don’t miss the snow and the cold, but I do miss my parents who gave me wonderful Hanukkah memories. This year the eight days of Hanukkah runs through Christmas Day, and I know I will be celebrating.

After several years of dealing with Covid, this year I will be able to have a party again. Together with close friends, I will celebrate my birthday, Hanukkah and Christmas with my husband.  He, too, has a Christmas birthday! Guess what he gives me? The same thing I give him. Lots of love!

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